ReVIEWING Black Mountain College 13

International Conference

October 7-9, 2022

Thematic Focus: Leo Amino / The Visible and the Invisible: Submerged Histories of Abstraction

The 13th Annual ReVIEWING Black Mountain College conference had a thematic focus on Black Mountain College faculty member and pioneering Japanese American sculptor Leo Amino. In conjunction with the conference, Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center presented the exhibition Leo Amino: Work with Material, curated by Genji Amino, Director of The Estate of Leo Amino. This exhibition demonstrates Amino’s ingenuity in working with new materials to investigate the dynamics of perception through material and phenomenal transparency. In particular, the exhibition highlights his groundbreaking experiments with polyester resin beginning in the mid-1940s following the material’s declassification by the military after the Second World War. Amino is the innovator of cast plastics in the history of American sculpture, and the first artist in the United States to create a full body of work in the medium.

The conference intended to reconstruct submerged histories of experimental practice in 20th century American art during the years of operation of Black Mountain College: 1933-1957. With an emphasis on the legacy of Black Mountain for artists of color and members of other marginalized groups, the conference sought to interrogate more broadly the omissions and orthodoxies of prevailing narratives that have limited the ways we write about the relationship between race, gender, experiment, and abstraction in the 20th century.

Keynote Speaker: Marci Kwon, Ph.D.

A scholar of American Art, Marci Kwon’s research and teaching interests include the intersection of fine art and vernacular practice, theories of modernism, cultural exchange between Asia and the Americas, critical race theory, and “folk” and “self-taught” art.  She is the co-director of the Cantor Arts Center’s Asian American Art Initiative. Her book Enchantments: Joseph Cornell and American Modernism was published by Princeton University Press in 2021. Additional articles address Isamu Noguchi; John Kane and amateurism, and labor; race and value; Japanese internment crafts; Surrealism and folk art at the Museum of Modern Art; Martin Wong and Orientalism; and Asian American art. She is currently working on a book about art, artifice, and authenticity in post-Earthquake San Francisco Chinatown. Kwon has also held positions at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art. At Stanford, Kwon is a faculty affiliate of the Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity, Asian American Studies, African and African American Studies, American Studies, the Center for East Asia, and Feminist and Gender Studies, and serves on the steering committee of Modern Thought and Literature.

Leo Amino: Work with Material

John Cage, Fire 6, 1985. Burned and branded paper. The Johnson Collection

Japanese American sculptor Leo Amino (1911-1989) is the first artist in the United States to utilize plastics as a principal material, the innovator of cast plastics in American sculpture, and after Isamu Noguchi the most represented artist of color in the history of the Whitney Museum of American Art’s annual exhibitions for sculpture. He is one among a select few Asian American artists to have gained this level of national exposure in the first half of the 20th century. Invited by Josef Albers to join the faculty of Black Mountain College in 1946, a year after the artist began his experiments with polyester and acrylic following their military declassification at the close of WWII, Amino is the only sculptor in the following two decades to use this new industrial medium to produce a full body of work carrying forward the innovations of Constructivism and the Bauhaus with respect to both material and phenomenal transparency.

Joining artists Noguchi, Yasuo Kuniyoshi and others in denouncing fascism in Japan and attempting to carve out a space for their work on the East Coast during the era of Japanese American incarceration in the United States, Amino represents what historian Mae Ngai might call an “impossible subject” of the history of American sculpture.

During a period in which the dominant strain of the American avant-garde sought out the immediacy of authentic gesture and automatic revelation, Amino chose to pursue an investigation into radical mediation, seeking to capture the intimacy between the act of seeing and the thing seen. Often embracing a minor or miniature scale, high degree of finish, refinement of form, and sensuous address disavowed by the heroic existentialism prevalent among Abstract Expressionists, Amino’s embrace of light and color as primary elements of sculptural construction anticipated the concerns of the next generation’s Minimalist and Light and Space movements, whose artists would take up his medium of choice two decades later. Across a breadth of media and compositional approaches often remarked during the artist’s lifetime for its inventiveness and versatility, Amino’s oeuvre brings into focus the dynamics of perception, articulating space, light, and color through an optics of encounter, interpenetration, and absorption.

Curated by Genji Amino, Director of The Estate of Leo Amino

Leo Amino: Work with Material was made possible with generous support from the Davis/Dauray Family Fund, David Feldman and Jennifer Herman Feldman, Henry Moore Foundation, and the Wyeth Foundation for American Art. Thanks to the following lenders: Estate of Leo Amino, Janis Conner, Nancy DeVore, David Feldman and Jennifer Herman Feldman, and David Zwirner. Many special thanks to the BMCM+AC board of directors, Nancy Cable, David Chickey and the team at Radius Books, Evelyn Horton, UNCA STEAM Studio, and Leslie Rosenberg.

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